Our Redhead Looks at Colleges: Tears, Smiles and a Blessing
by Rabbi Paul Kipnes
(originally posted at Or Am I?)
It all started with Consecration. In celebration of the beginning of their formal Jewish education, these cute kindergartners ascend to the bimah to stand before the aron kodesh (holy ark) to receive a mini-Torah from the hands of their parents. Nervousness surrounds us as children wonder where to stand, as parents step forward unsure of how to guide them. Still, smiles mingle with tears as we watch our babies continue to grow up. And we bless, shehecheyanu, thanking God for getting us to this special day.
Then we stand again on the bimah as the child, now thirteen, becomes a Bat or Bar Mitzvah. Having spent years learning about Judaism and practicing Hebrew, she now leads the service, chants from Torah, and gets to stand before parents, relatives and friends who sit quietly and attentively as she expounds eloquently on some lesson derived from Torah. Nervousness surrounds us as the teens, so worried about what others will think, now are anxious about whether they will mess up the words or the tune. Some will now call them “men” or “women” but we know better. They are just taking the first steps on the road toward being an adult. Still we pass down Torah midor lador, from generation to generation, hoping that their shoulders are now broad enough to carry on the burden (and joy) of our tradition and values. Smiles mingle with tears as we realize our children are no longer babies. And we bless, shehecheyanu, thanking God for getting us to this special day.
Then we stand again, on the bimah leading up to the airplane, as we accompany our babies on their journeys to visit potential colleges. Having spent years learning about everything and nothing, they now travel up and down the coast, and sometimes across the country, seeking out the right match – a college to propel them forward toward chochma (wisdom) and talmud Torah (learning). Nervousness surrounds us as they spend months struggling to capture in college essays the essence of their lives, souls and dreams, worried that if they do not put their best face forward they will be rejected by the schools of their choice. Some will call them “adults,” as they soon can vote, make their own decisions, and, in time, drink legally. But we know that they are still just older kids, merely taking the next set of steps on the path toward adulthood (and besides, a vast majority will come back home after graduation for the free room and board). Smiles mingle with tears as we realize our babies are simultaneously our children in need of guidance and not.
Yes, consecration is a liminal moment, a time of transition into study.
Yes, Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a liminal moment, a transition onto the path toward adulthood.
And choosing a college, now that is really a liminal moment, a transition, heartwrenchingly wonderful, which propels our children forward.
Philosophical? Yes. But deeply personal. Because the little redheaded girl who moments ago could not stand still on the bimah during her consecration, who seconds ago could not make me prouder as she chanted her Torah and gave her d’var Torah (speech) is now looking at colleges.
So, as I reflect upon these few days of our father-daughter college visiting trip – tours, interviews and visits to Hillel houses – I quietly intone, with a smile mingled with tears, the bracha (blessing) we Jews say whenever we arrive at one of these firsts:
…shehecheyanu v’kee’manu v’higee-anu lazman hazeh.
Holy One of Blessing, who has guided me on my journey through this universe, thank you for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for bringing us – with smiles and tears – to this incredible moment.